Terraforming in detail

Table of contents:

Terraforming in detail
Terraforming in detail

We all remember the words of Tsiolkovsky: "The Earth is the cradle of mankind, but you can't live in the cradle forever!" A century has passed since the moment when this was said. But how do you build yourself a new home in space? And are there ways to transform lifeless worlds in the space desert into new oases of life?


Second home as a necessity

Today, few people doubt that the search and arrangement of a second home for earthly civilization is a necessity. And, perhaps, at home, not only the second, but also the third and fourth. We, of course, will sooner or later learn to take care of our planet. We will not poison it with the waste of our activities, we will preserve the climate, and reason will not allow us to use nuclear weapons. But there are always dangers that we cannot prevent. Due to a lack of technology or an unexpected threat.

In the future, we will learn how to correct the orbits of asteroids, which means that this technology will allow us to protect the Earth from their fall, and humanity from the fate of dinosaurs. If we, of course, have time to find it. An asteroid flying from the direction of the Sun may come as a surprise to us. And a group of asteroids flying in our direction will be like the warhead of an intercontinental missile with multiple warheads. In addition, science and technology are advancing rapidly. Today, we do not know what will be invented tomorrow that could make our planet uninhabitable.

But there are still concerns about artificial intelligence. We often hear that he wants to destroy humanity. What if the artificial intelligence we created does get out of hand? Where then can we hide from the cars? Maybe on other planets?


Well, and, in fact, it is not yet a fact that we will save our planet, its ecosystem, air, water, nature in general. Although the planet will be formally habitable, living on it can become uncomfortable. Futurologists often paint apocalyptic pictures of the world - overpopulation, depletion of resources, the transformation of the planet into a global metropolis without a single corner of virgin nature. In order not to suffocate on a planet tired of humanity, we still have to go into space in search of a cleaner world, or create it from scratch.

But how? We still have not learned how to control the weather on our planet, but we want to change the climate on Mars and Venus. What is terraforming and where to look for our future home?

There are eight planets in the solar system. Terrestrial planets: Mercury is the smallest and closest to the hot Sun, enveloped in a dense acidic atmosphere and overheated Venus, cold, but probably once quite suitable for life Mars and our cradle - Earth. There are also giant planets that are located outside the asteroid belt and do not have a solid surface: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune. Perhaps there are also hypothetical planets nine and ten.


There are five other dwarf planets that are officially recognized as such by the International Astronomical Union: Ceres, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake and Eris. A few dozen more bodies are considered candidates for dwarf planets, such as Sedna, Ork and Kwavar. But most of them are in the part of the solar system that does not receive the necessary amount of solar energy to think about terraforming them, at least not now.

Many celestial bodies have their own satellites. Some are larger than other planets.For example, Ganymede, one of Jupiter's Galilean moons, is larger than Mercury. Some even have an atmosphere - Saturn's moon Titan. But such a wealth of celestial bodies, nevertheless, does not give us much choice. The number of objects in the solar system, which we can give an earth-like appearance, that is, terraform, is minimal.

As a rule, by terraforming (Latin terra - "earth" and forma - "view") we mean the creation of conditions on the planet or satellite of the planet that are most suitable for human life, which means conditions similar to those on earth. Such as on our planet, where life originated, man appeared and, having passed all stages of evolution for millions of years, he became what he is now. And if earlier life on Earth was adapting to the conditions of the planet, now we have to carry out the opposite process - to adapt the planet to conditions acceptable to us. And in order to create such conditions, it is necessary at least to change the climate of the space body - temperature, atmospheric pressure and its composition. As a maximum, we will have to restore or create the magnetosphere, change the parameters of the orbit and rotation, physical characteristics and much more.

The term "terraforming" itself came to us from science fiction. It was first used by the American writer Jack Williamson in the science fiction story Collision Orbit, published back in 1942 by Astounding Science Fiction, one of the most popular American science fiction magazines. time.


In this case, of course, it is desirable that the results of the transformation of the celestial body were irreversible. For example, a rapid leakage of the atmosphere of a terraformed planet into outer space can negate all the results of long efforts. And perhaps also lead to the death of human settlements on its surface.

But the complete resemblance to the Earth is an almost unattainable result. Especially when it comes to the planets of the solar system. It is unlikely that we will ever be able to change the gravity of the planet to make the gravity acceleration rate acceptable for a comfortable human existence on its surface. From the point of view of modern physics, this is impossible. But by the way, in Williamson's Trajectory of Impact, artificial gravity was the main terraforming technology. Paragravity - as he called it - made it possible to maintain a dense atmosphere on asteroids that were not able to hold the air shell on their own.

It is also difficult to imagine that we will be able to change the orbits of the planets of their satellites. Move the planets closer to the Sun in order to melt the eternal ice, or, conversely, move them away, saving from the heat of the sun. Or "tear off" satellites from giant planets and turn them into full-fledged planets. Humanity will need to learn how to manage truly gigantic energies in order to do this.

However, speaking about the change in the orbits of celestial bodies, it would not be superfluous to say that scientists from the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics in Toronto have recently established that in the habitable zone of a star like our Sun, there can be five celestial bodies the size of the Earth. They will have stable orbits, and they will not be cramped. This is to the question of the possibility of constructing the solar system at your own discretion by correcting the orbits. Interestingly, when such planets approaching, moving in their orbits, they can easily be seen in the sky with the naked eye. The disk of one such planet would appear in the sky about 6 times smaller than that of the Moon.

In the solar system, we are unlikely to get a completely Earth-like planet. In addition, the achievement of conditions close to earthly ones, most likely, will be impossible without the construction of gigantic astro-engineering structures - shields, mirrors, orbiting magnetospheres, etc.At the same time, it is likely that even after the completion of terraforming, they will remain in orbit, being, like our Moon, an integral part of the created system for supporting life on the planet.


After evaluating the characteristics of objects in the Solar System, one can come to the conclusion that even taking into account the proposed technologies, only Mars and Venus are suitable for terraforming, and to one degree or another it will be possible to change the conditions on the satellites of the giant planets. A separate topic for discussion is the Moon.

All this, of course, does not exclude the colonization of other celestial bodies without bringing the conditions on them to what we have on Earth. If technology allows and there will be a critical need for this, then human settlements may well appear in space from Mercury to Pluto. But they will probably look more like giant orbital stations, including small asteroids, cities under domes at the poles of Mercury, cities on Venus hovering above the clouds, etc.

But the conclusions about the suitability of the celestial bodies of the solar system are made taking into account the technologies that we can at least imagine. And in the modern reality of the solar system. But in the future, as scientists suggest, due to the expansion of the outer shells of the Sun, its radius will increase. Celestial bodies in colder zones of the solar system will become promising for terraforming. Whereas the Earth will no longer be habitable. But these will already be the concerns of our distant descendants.

One, two, three … an apple tree to grow

How long and from what stages will the process of terraforming a particular planet consist? Obviously, it will take a very long time to terraform the selected planet. Probably, this process will take place during the life of several generations of earthlings. People will live with the understanding that somewhere in space there is a long process of building a second home for humanity. It will be as natural as for us today manned space flights and the existence of the International Space Station in orbit. Photos of the changing planet, the first rain that fell on its surface, and the snow that fell, the first planted plants will be as popular as, for example, the colorful images of the Hubble telescope today.


Perhaps, having embarked on the next stage of terraforming, we will not fully understand how to implement the next one. New technologies will appear gradually. Actually, modern space exploration is a preparatory, "zero" stage in its colonization and preparation for terraforming suitable planets.

By the time we start reworking our chosen planet, we should know almost everything about the solar system. The same applies to exoplanetary systems. However, in this case, such a prospect, given the current development of technology, seems absolutely fantastic. Naturally, it will be necessary to study the planet itself, a candidate for the role of the second Earth. This is evidenced, for example, by Robert Zubrin, an American engineer and publicist, founder of the Martian Society and one of the main enthusiasts for the exploration of the Red Planet. It is important to study the history of Mars, the history of possible life on the planet, the availability of resources and determine the places of future settlements, he said.

Goals first stage terraformations are seen as follows. It is necessary to deliver the required amount of chemical elements and their compounds to the planet for the subsequent formation of the atmosphere, hydrosphere and soil layer. Typically, these are chemical compounds containing oxygen, nitrogen and carbon required to create an atmospheric mix. Water is definitely needed, as a substance that can easily undergo a phase transition, releasing and absorbing heat. And for the formation of the biosphere, chemical compounds will be required containing organogenic elements that are part of all organic compounds (C, H, N, O, S, P). Some elements may already be on the planet.It will be necessary to create conditions for their release.

From the same stage, the creation of conditions for the preservation of the future atmosphere, as well as for a safe stay on the surface of a person, will begin - the restoration or creation of the planet's magnetosphere or the construction of an artificial magnetosphere in orbit, such as, for example, recently proposed by NASA. In addition, correction of the planet's rotation, axis tilt, orbital parameters (if technology allows it) in order to create the usual length of the day and change the seasons of the year.


The main method at this stage will be the bombardment of the surface by asteroids, which at the next stages will be already difficult or completely impossible. At this stage, construction of large orbital structures begins, for example, mirrors to warm up the planet (Mars) or shields to reduce the amount of incoming sunlight and cool the planet (Venus).

On second stage the hydrosphere is formed - reservoirs appear: oceans, seas, rivers begin to flow. At this stage, the temperature will stabilize. Its own and imported ice (Mars) is melting, atmospheric water vapor, including also imported (Venus), condenses. Water is collected in natural lowlands, reservoirs are formed.

By this stage, giant orbital structures have already been built, which affect the temperature regime of the planet. Temperature conditions, availability of water and sunlight, sufficient density of the atmosphere, which protects against ultraviolet radiation, already allow the first introduced organisms to develop on the surface. They shape the atmosphere by releasing oxygen and nitrogen and recycle carbon dioxide. Probably, these will be synthetic organisms, programmed to reproduce only for a limited number of generations. At this stage, the chemical composition of the atmosphere approaches that of the Earth, the atmosphere becomes stratified, and the ozone layer appears. The first rains are falling, the water cycle occurs in nature. The pressure of the atmosphere and the temperature regime make it possible to build cities under light domes, with an artificial atmosphere suitable for the breathing of the first settlers. The planet's atmosphere is not yet adapted for full-fledged breathing, but on the surface you can no longer be in a spacesuit, but in a light suit and a breathing mask.


Stage three - planting terrestrial, but probably genetically modified or selected plants to create a permanent biosphere. If by this moment the "anthem" of the conquerors of Mars - "And the apple trees will bloom on Mars" - will not be forgotten, then it is at this stage that the first Martian apple orchard will be laid. At this stage, the reproduction of organisms brought in for the modification of the atmosphere stops. They are replaced by the permanent flora of the changed Mars. By this time, the planet had already changed its color and there is no reason to call it red. The first settlers are already engaged in the formation of not a global climate, but climatic conditions in certain areas of the Martian surface. The construction of Martian canals begins to regulate the flow of water into reservoirs, drain some areas and reclaim others. Fine tuning of the entire ecosystem begins.

Ideal the result of terraforming acts as a global self-sustaining ecosystem, capable, even in the event of a loss of connection with the Earth - the donor planet, or the death of civilization on our planet, to provide humanity with the minimum necessary living conditions - food, materials for the production of clothing and the construction of housing. Different researchers allot different time frames for terraforming a planet. The most optimistic forecasts, usually for Mars, are a couple of hundred years since the beginning of the transformation. According to other calculations, it will take up to 1000 years. Projects that take a long time to complete the transformation are likely to be delayed until technologies are available to make it faster and cheaper.

From idea to technology

Even the climate on our home planet is not subject to humanity, although we can spoil it, according to climatologists speaking about global warming. But to fix it, to manage it on a global scale - no. However, the methods that are supposed to be used to terraform other planets are not always suitable for improving or saving the Earth. Obviously, you can drop an asteroid on a lifeless planet, you shouldn't do this with the Earth.

The controlled fall of asteroids, comets, and its natural satellites onto the surface of the transformed planet is often cited as one of the main methods of terraforming. It is still difficult to imagine another, more or less realistic way to deliver water and the necessary chemical elements. The fall of celestial bodies will also entail the release of heat - you can, for example, melt the polar caps of Mars. Tangential impacts can change the rotation speed.

A special case of this method is a controlled passage in the immediate vicinity of a planet of a large celestial body. For example, this method could help get rid of the too dense atmosphere of Venus - just rip off part of it.

There is another interesting development on this topic. The authors of the Mars Terraformer Transfer project suggest dropping an asteroid on Mars to create an artificial lake. When a celestial body falls to the surface, about one quintillion joules of heat will be released. An impact crater with a diameter of 9 km will fill with water formed as a result of ice melting in the near-surface layers of Martian soil. The water temperature in the lake, which will occupy only part of the crater, will be about 11 degrees Celsius. The remaining area of ​​the crater will be used for the construction of Martian settlements. The project will be completed in 2036. In 2061 - a repeat with a larger asteroid.


However, it is not so much the possibility of creating a lake on the surface that is interesting as the technology of delivering the asteroid. The Lake Matthew Team - the authors of the project paid special attention to it. The spacecraft, having approached the selected asteroid, will "remove" it from orbit and redirect it to the target planet. In this case, the change in the constant orbit and the correction of the trajectory in the process of tracking the "projectile" will be carried out using the method of laser ablation. A laser installation will be delivered to the shepherd satellite. The laser beam generated by it, focused on one side of the asteroid, will cause the evaporation of a small amount of its matter, which will give the asteroid a jet impulse in the desired direction. The use of this technology is also possible to protect the Earth from asteroids.

The creation of mega-structures in orbit is another potential way of terraforming. Giant mirrors orbiting Mars, reflecting sunlight, are capable of melting the polar caps and releasing huge amounts of water ice and frozen carbon dioxide they contain. They will not only raise the level of atmospheric pressure, but also provoke a greenhouse effect, which, in turn, will lead to an increase in temperature. True, it will take 1000 years to wait for any significant warming.

Another way to heat Mars in a shorter, and therefore looking completely fantastic, time frame is an artificial magnetosphere in orbit between the Red Planet and the Sun. It will allow Mars to restore a climate suitable for life on its own. The project was proposed by Jim Green, Director of NASA's Planetary Science Division. Dipole magnets placed on the spacecraft at the L1 Lagrange point will create a magnetic field strong enough to deflect particles from the solar wind. The protective magnetosphere will stop the loss of gases that make up the atmosphere caused by the action of the solar wind. According to the author of the project, such protection will allow the Red Planet's atmosphere to gain a density and pressure of half that of the Earth in a few years.


At first glance, an even simpler method was recently proposed by Elon Musk. In order to melt the polar caps of the Red Planet, he proposed to detonate thermonuclear bombs over the poles of Mars. In his opinion, this is a much faster way than others.

Also, for example, it is proposed to place thermonuclear reactors in the polar regions, which will slowly melt the ice of the polar caps. This idea was proposed by Michio Kaku, an active popularizer of science, physicist and futurist. The topic of building on Mars itself is not limited to this. There is also an idea from Robert Zubrin and NASA astrobiologist Chris McKay. They propose to start the production of greenhouse gases at the Martian factories. "In total" 100-150 factories, evenly distributed over the planet's surface, will produce methane and freon. The goal is to create an atmosphere of the desired density. This should take about 10-30 years.

But delivering entire factories to the surface of another planet is very troublesome. Even if they are created on the principle of von Neumann machines. That is, in addition to modifying the atmosphere, they will simultaneously build their own copies. So far, we have not yet learned how to create such machines on Earth. However, nature offers us its solution.

Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, according to scientists, about 2.4 billion years ago, formed the modern oxygen-containing atmosphere of our planet. Breeding, they colonized almost the entire Earth. Cyanobacteria have a full-fledged photosynthetic apparatus, are extremely hardy and are able to adapt to completely extreme conditions. They have a high reproduction rate. By settling them on Mars, we can modify its atmosphere, says Charles S. Cockell, a microbiologist at the British Open University.


It is possible to populate Mars with completely artificial organisms. Craig Venter, who together with his team created the world's first synthetic organism, proposes to use synthetic "carbon-eating" microorganisms on the Red Planet. With the help of organisms delivered to the planet, it will be possible not only to modify the atmosphere, but also to convert carbon dioxide into fuel, food and plastic. This year, Venter went even further. He demonstrated the work of a "bioprinter" capable of assembling whole artificial cells with a predetermined genome from individual components. It will be enough just to deliver such a "printer" to another planet - and you can begin colonization.

In general, we need to make a major technological leap forward to explore neighboring planets. Master thermonuclear energy, synthetic biology, put lasers into space, find cheaper ways of space travel and, of course, draw up a detailed and detailed "map" of the solar system.

From one planet to another, from the Sun to the stars

Mars is perhaps the first candidate for terraforming. It is believed that in the past its atmosphere was denser, the climate was warmer and more humid, and on the surface there was liquid water and even rivers flowed. There is also speculation that Mars had a global magnetic field similar to that of Earth. It also protected the planet from the solar wind. But, probably, Mars had another satellite, scientists named it Thanatos. Its fall on the surface of Mars "turned off" the magnetic field, breaking convection in the liquid core of the planet. It was this event that most likely made the Red Planet lifeless.

Now Mars has a too thin atmosphere, it cannot retain heat, and since Mars has low pressure, water cannot exist in liquid form on 70% of the planet's surface. Although in an ice state, it is found in the Martian soil and polar caps.

Of the advantages of Mars - the length of the day, it is 24 hours and 40 minutes. Almost analogous to the Earth's tilt of the axis (25, 19 to 23, 5 degrees on Earth). Therefore, there is a change of seasons on Mars.But since Mars is farther from the Sun, then the Martian year also lasts longer: 686, 98 Earth days. In the Martian year 668, 6 Martian solar days.


One of Mars' biggest gains in future terraforming is a dense and breathable atmosphere. But in order not to lose it, Mars needs a magnetic field that will prevent the loss of the atmosphere as a result of the action of the solar wind.

Scientists believe that in the early period, Earth and Mars were similar. There is a version that once, at the same time, both here and there preconditions for the emergence of life arose. But then we parted ways. But today's Venus, according to some assumptions, is similar to our planet, as it was in Katarchean and early Archean - the infancy of the Earth. Volcanic activity, lightning and dense hot atmosphere. This is how this period is often described. But 4–3, 9 billion years ago, the pressure on the Earth dropped, the temperature dropped, water from the atmosphere condensed and, concentrating in the lowlands, formed the first seas and oceans. Roughly the same thing must happen on Venus to make it look like Earth.

But in some ways it is similar to our planet now. The radius of the planet is 95% of the Earth's, its mass is 81.5%, and the acceleration of gravity is 90%. On the surface of a fully terraformed Venus, man would feel more comfortable than anywhere else. But not now. The temperature at the surface of modern Venus is like in a stove - 477 oC, the pressure is 92 times higher than on Earth, and the planet is shrouded in dense clouds of sulfur dioxide and drops of sulfuric acid.


There is one more serious drawback - Venus makes a revolution around its axis in 243.02 Earth days. In this case, slow axial rotation is a possible reason for the absence of a magnetic field. Due to its proximity to the Sun, Venus needs a magnetic field even more than Mars. One of the ways to create it is to "spin" Venus around its axis by controlled bombardment with asteroids and comets. Thus, it will be possible to achieve three goals at once. By spinning the planet, presumably, it is possible to achieve the appearance of a "magnetic dynamo", since the planet has a metal core, to shorten the unnecessarily long Venusian day and to introduce the necessary chemical elements and compounds into the atmosphere. It can be water obtained from comets and water-ammonia asteroids, or substances that would facilitate the binding of sulfuric acid to salt. An additional effect of the latter reaction would be water or hydrogen.

Another interesting way to create a magnetic field of Venus is to launch a satellite of sufficient mass into orbit around it. Again, for the appearance of a "magnetic dynamo". There is a hypothesis that Mercury was a satellite of Venus in the past, and was later lost by it. The return of Mercury to near-Venetian orbit and its transformation into the moon of Venus will make this system even more like our home. At the same time, it will be possible to terraform it, thereby obtaining two inhabited worlds.

By cooling the planet, reducing the flow of solar energy with the help of screens reflecting sunlight, modifying its atmosphere or getting rid of part of it, creating a magnetic field and reducing the length of the day, we will solve the main problems associated with its terraforming.

Satellites of giant planets are also often named as objects for terraforming. But here a number of new factors appear that complicate the task. Distance from Earth complicates logistics. Distance from the Sun means less sunlight is being received. The created world with an unusually small amount of sunlight will probably not be very comfortable for settlers from Earth.


Moreover, if we melt the ice of some satellites, then there is a possibility that we will get an "ocean planet" - an object completely covered with water. Under such conditions, the best we can build for the colonists to live is floating or underwater cities.

On the surface of Jupiter's moon Io there are more than 400 active volcanoes - this is the most geologically active body in the solar system. He, as well as Europa and Ganymede, are in the zone of action of the radiation belt of Jupiter. But Callisto is geologically very stable and is located outside the radiation belt of the planet. He is the first candidate for colonization in this part of the solar system. But still the created worlds will be very different from ours, if only because of insufficient gravity.


It would be advisable to surround celestial bodies with relatively low gravity with artificial transparent shells. They would cover the entire planet and maintain their shape due to internal pressure. Thus, the issues of atmospheric retention would be solved, and with the application of special coatings - heat preservation and protection from harmful ultraviolet radiation.

But the most controversial, in the field of colonization and terraforming, the object in the solar system is the natural satellite of our planet. The moon, by cosmic standards, is located very close to us. Flights to her at one time took only three days. If possible, it will be difficult to resist trying to terraform it. Sometimes the Moon is even called the seventh continent of the Earth. Perhaps, in the near future, the flight to it will take as long as to any other continent of the Earth today. For example, to Australia. But the terraforming of the Moon is fraught with difficulties that are not so manifested when trying to transform more distant celestial bodies.

The Earth and the Moon are one connected system. By acting on the moon, we thereby risk "touching" the Earth. To make a 24-hour day on the Moon, you need to speed up the Moon's rotation. Then we will be able to see from the Earth all the hemispheres of the Moon. The concept of the far side of the moon will disappear. But how this will affect the Earth and the lives of people, here scientists cannot yet say.

Also, the moon has no atmosphere. Trying to create it and pushing comets and asteroids onto the surface, one can miss the “target” and touch the Earth. And the Moon will not be able to hold the created atmosphere for a long time due to low gravity. At the same time, it is possible to surround the Moon with a transparent shell, and due to the orbital mirrors, create an artificial day during a long lunar night.


We are discovering more and more planets outside the solar system. We are increasingly thinking about ways to terraform them. As soon as interstellar flights become available to us, the terraforming of exoplanets will become less fiction than it seems now. The advantage of terraforming planets around other stars is that we can choose a planet that is as close to Earth as possible. With the same gravity, an atmosphere similar in composition, a magnetic field that protects against the stellar wind, etc. It remains only to correct individual parameters.

The disadvantage is the gigantic distances to exoplanets. Less effort to transform - but more to fly. Although the choice will most likely stop at one of the stars from the vicinity of the Sun within a few tens of light years. There is another complication due to distance. If here, in the solar system, the Earth will act as a support base for us, then in order to terraform a planet in another star system, we will have to create a giant spaceship. Equipped with all the necessary equipment - robotic spacecraft for correcting orbits and building orbital mirrors, and biomaterials for modifying the atmosphere and populating planets - it will be sent to a distant star system, where it will stay during the entire terraforming process. By this time, we will most likely have the experience of transforming planets in near space - the solar system.

Popular by topic